What were Elfstedentochten really like? Vintage 50s video in full colour inside!

Ever wondered what it looked like? ❄️

There are some things we wish would make a comeback: flip phones, playing in the street, and of course, the Elfstedentocht.

Unfortunately, we can’t have everything. But, we can have one thing: a brand-new, fully-colourised video of 1954’s and 1956’s Elfstedentochten — and that’s pretty dang good.

Why is it so good? This vintage goodness is giving us unobstructed views of the Netherlands in wintertime (nostalgic sigh).

What is the Elfstedentocht?

Any mention of the Elfstedentocht to an older member of Dutch society is likely to be met by happy nods and glassy eyes. It was an annual event that stopped the nation.

The Elfstedentocht was a Tour de France for ice-skaters, going through a route of frozen canals, rivers and lakes.

The 200-kilometre route took the skaters through 11 historical Frisian towns: Leeuwarden, Sneek, IJlst, Sloten, Stavoren, Hindeloopen, Workum, Bolsward, Harlingen, Franeker and Dokkum.

Over 15,000 skaters, all from the Association of the Eleven Frisian Towns, would take part each year. The rest of the Dutch population watched starry-eyed canal-side or from the warmth of their living room.

What happened to the Elfstedentocht?

The last Elfstedentocht was held 26 years ago, in 1997. Since then, the ice hasn’t met the 15-centimetre thick requirement for the whole course.

READ MORE: Why the Netherlands will never have an ‘Elfstedentocht’ (Eleven cities tour) again

Extra points if you manage to spot the Frisian flag waving in one of the shots!

Did you ever experience an Elfstedentocht? What was it like? Tell us your story in the comments below!

Featured Image: Rob C. Croes/Anefo/Wikimedia Commons/CC1.0
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in February 2020 and was fully updated in December 2023 for your reading pleasure. 

Samantha Dixon 🇦🇺
Samantha Dixon 🇦🇺https://gallivantations.com
Sam has over six years experience writing about life in the Netherlands and leads the content team at DutchReview. She originally came to the Netherlands to study in 2016 and now holds a BA (Hons.) in Arts, a BA (Hons) in Journalism, and (almost) a Masters in Teaching. She loves to write about settling into life in the Netherlands, her city of Utrecht, learning Dutch, and jobs in the Netherlands — and she still can’t jump on the back of a moving bike (she's learning!).

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What do you think?

  1. Hello from the States. I always start my mornings with Dutch Review! Thanks for another great article. You guys do a great job covering The Netherlands! Your content is unfailingly charming, insightful, useful and succinct! Keep up the good work! And thanks again! Dag!

  2. It says each year? ‘56, ‘63, ‘85, ‘86, ‘97, not really an annual event me thinks. In between we had a few cold winters but for an 11 cities tour the overall ice thickness is important and some spots are critical. ‘63 was an extremely cold and long winter. I had all the time to learn too scate on a small canal in front of our house, I was 8 at the time.
    We still hope there well be another one. We’ll see.


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